Written by Paul Simoes Sunday, 22 April 2018 00:00
Of all the stage races out there, this is likely the one that has been on my radar maybe the longest but, being early April and being from cold Massachusetts and not being a trainer person, it makes it so hard to be ready for a stage race in April. Early March weather was good and we had a somewhat not bad February so, I signed up for the race, I’ve been wanting to do this and then the weather in New England went to hell. One nor'easter after another; riding in cold, nasty, slushy roads being chased by dogs. March riding was not all that fun but I needed to try be ready for this. I paid up.
At last, day one, three big climbs. The first was tight with a bit of hike a bike, but a fun downhill. The next two climbs were dirt roads so, not so bad with fun downhills. The first stage was a fun stage. It didn’t kill you but had some climbing to get you ready for the week. A good way to get a feel for who you're riding with, what to expect, and a finish that I didn’t see coming. 1st, 2nd and 3rd all 7 seconds apart in the 50+ class and I pulled in the 2nd. Well, that set the tone for the week.
Day 2 and the beginning of the long stages. I started with a somewhat controlled start on the road for 5 miles. Then, on a hill up Turkey Pen, I tried to keep the race leader Darren Cox in sight before going into the endless singletrack. Darren was only about 30-40 feet in front of me at the top of the hill. But that seem to be only the beginning of the climbing and Darren would ride out of sight in a short amount of time. About a ⅓ into the stage, Rick Landry would catch up to me and pass. I stayed behind Rick for a while but eventually, Rick opened up the gap and would ride away. The singletrack up to Squirrel Gap just seemed endless and it was a much harder stage than I expected. I’m sure it didn’t help that at the time I felt maybe I had a chance of winning my age group so I chased and worked harder than I should have. I needed to ride at my own pace for the next couple of days or I’m going to blow up. The big payoff of the stage was the downhill on Black Mountain and when I realized how much I love this new 2018 Kona Hei Hei. The incredible nimbleness of this bike and how fast it is. It’s a race bike that can do it all; it climbs and descends like a bat out of hell. Well, my dreams of winning were dashed today. I finished 6 min off of Darren and 4 min off of Rick but remained in a strong 3rd.
Day 3 and what I would think was the hardest stage, a whole lot of steep ups and downs and a long day of riding. Today was about riding at my own pace, NO CHASING, and it worked out well. Caught up to Rick on the climb up Black Mt. but Rick would ride away on a dirt road downhill. Which was fine, I really enjoyed the riding of stage 3; the downhill of Avery Creek, the sick climb up Club Gap, and down Black Mt. again. Fun Fun! Finished 3rd again but cut the gaps to 4 min on Darren, 2 min on Rick, and enjoyed myself a bit more not chasing anyone.
Day 4 and the last really long day, same strategy, no chasing. Caught up to Rick again on the downhill singletrack leading to a river crossing and at the low point of the day before the endless climbing. The endless climb started off a dirt road and Rick and I would go back and forth on the beginning of the climb and then we noticed that Darren was only some 50-70 yards ahead of us. Rick seemed to have a plan. He was really taking it easy on the beginning of the climb, not pushing at all, knowing how long this climb was going to be today. At some point, Darren and Rick would pick up the pace and by the end of the dirt road, climb. Darren and Rick went first into the next part of the climb, the endless singletrack up Laurel Mt. Darren went out of sight fairly quickly but I was able keep Rick in sight for a while before he rode away as well. Most of the stage wasn’t so bad until the end of the climb up Laurel Mt. well, really what seemed to be the endless hike-a-bike up Laurel Mt. followed by the downhill of Pilot Rock which seemed drive a bunch of nails into your coffin to finish a stage. Finished 3rd again, but Rick got the win today and would take the overall lead by 40 something seconds.
Finally day 5 and an easier day. By this point I’m fairly locked into 3rd unless something bad happens so today was just about having fun and being safe. Started with one last hard climb up Farlow Gap and then the crazy downhill of Farlow, parts of which I walked. I didn’t feel like I needed to kill myself or my bike on the last day of this race and wreck my week. The second half of stage 5 was really easy which was fine by me. Time to just enjoy the the bacon hand off’s and yes, a topless girl gives out shots before the last hill of the week. Boy, what a fun week of riding. On the last day of riding, Darren just killed it; 9 min on me and 5 on Rick. So a BIG hand to Darren having a great week getting the win. I finished some 20 min back of Darren, some 15 min behind Rick finishing a strong 3rd for the week. A big thanks to Blue Ridge Adventures for putting together a world class event, super great environment, and some of the best riding you can find anywhere on the east coast. Also a big thanks to some of my sponsors; Kona and the 2018 Hei Hei, the more I ride this bike the more I like it. Schwalbe tires by keeping the air in my tires all week, and Carver rims. My bike and myself held up all week being in Pisgah. All week, that’s a big task, so a big thanks helping put together a great week.
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